Session 9: Coaching at Work, Part 3

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Coaching at work day 3 began with a recap of the coaching model and principles as explored over our first two days, and then some reflection on how we had used coaching in our own working environments. The example I gave was a discussion I had with a couple of academics about choosing an appropriate platform to host the participatory arts MOOC which is under development, where I used open coaching style questions to draw out the details of their desired delivery model in order to draw up a basic specification of requirements to work from.

This was followed by what was to be the main focus of the day, how to use coaching within teams. We began with an exercise called ‘Lost at Sea’ which asked us to rank the importance of 15 items for survival in a scenario where we have been cast adrift from a sinking ship. We did this as individuals, then we had to have a team discussion and agree a collective response in a short period of time. Our scores were then compared with what is regarded as the correct answers, as supplied by the US Navy where this exercise originated. My individual score was 61 points out from the Navy’s answers, which wasn’t bad, and the team’s collective score was 52 points out, better. No one person scored better than the team score; a typical outcome for this exercise according to Matt, who said that it was rare for anyone to outperform the group. That was lesson one from this exercise, that a collectively bargained and agreed team response is better than that which any one person can produce.

I think this may have been a little bit of a transformational moment for me, it’s certainly something that has stayed with me from this day, and one of the things from the course that I suspect is going to stay with me throughout my career. Writing this post retrospectively, I can already see that when there have been decisions which had to be made for the team as a whole I have tried to get the team to arrive at a consensus position instead of proposing what I think as the starting point for the discussion, for example when we agreed on a new rota for working the dreaded ITS call logging system.

Lesson two came out of what Matt was doing sneakily as we were having our discussion and coming to the team response – scoring us all against a rubric of communication styles. We all resorted to a very similar response pattern, with ‘Giving Information’ by far the most common method of communication. This was followed by ‘Shutting Out’, being used around half as much, then ‘Testing Understanding’, ‘Seeking Information’, ‘Bringing In’ and ‘Disagreeing’ with just a few ticks each. None of us used ‘Supporting’, ‘Summarising’, ‘Building’ or ‘Defend / Attack’. Again, very typical behaviour according to Matt, and which demonstrates that it is non-coaching styles of communication that we relapse to very easily under just a little pressure. The take-away from this is that using coaching styles of communication takes effort, it is something that you have to actively turn on.

Lesson three is to ask the obvious. None of us, at any point, asked if anyone in the group had any sailing or other pertinent experience. Again Matt said that was typical.

Out of interest, the US Navy’s accepted solution is based on their experience of successful rescues in shipwreck situations, which typically happen in the first 36 hours. Therefore prioritisation of items should be based on the possibility of imminent rescue, followed by short to medium term survival, and finally items that can be used for movement or navigation.

This exercise was followed by a discussion of some feedback models which can be enhanced with coaching techniques to help develop the person who are giving feedback to. First was the AID model – Action, Impact and Development – and then the STAR model which is depicted on this post. The STAR model – Situation / Task, Action, Result, Alternative Action, Alternative Result – is similar to the AID model but adds in an alternative course of action which you could propose to show how this could lead to an alternative, and better, result. Finally there was the SARAH model which shows how feedback is typically received – Shock, Anger, Rationalisation, Acceptance and Help. It is in the final two stages, but especially so in Help, where coaching techniques can be used to help develop the individual in question. A general rule we were given in relation to delivering feedback was to make sure it always relates to the task and to the performance of the task, it should never be personal.

Session 7: Coaching at Work, Part 2

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Day 2 of Coaching at Work was about filling out some of the principles introduced to us yesterday, followed by some practical application in a safe and supported environment.

Matt’s completed coaching model takes the form of an equation, Potential minus Interference (both internal and external) equals High Performance; add in Learning and Enjoyment for Sustainable High Performance.

Following a discussion on the purpose of coaching which served as a recap, the conclusion of which was that coaching aims to move people from vague desires to meaningful action, Matt gave us the ARROW model of questioning which consists of five steps, or categories of question:

  • Aims: What do you want?
  • Reality: What’s happening now?
  • Reflection: How big is the gap?
  • Options: What could you do?
  • Way Forward: What will you do?

For each of these steps Matt gave us around 6 to 8 example questions which break them down into more detail, and some advice. Possibly the most important being not to stick to the model literally, as people don’t think in a straight line and can jump around the steps in the model. Reality is the most important step according to Matt, as it can take people some time to work out what the situation is actually like, and also possibly the most tricky. We were warned about one question in particular from the examples in this section, namely ‘How does this make you feel?’, which has the potential to be upsetting for some in certain situations. For the Options section answers don’t have to be realistic or even necessarily desirable, the purpose here is to generate many and creative answers which are hashed out during the final step, the Way Forward. What all coaching questions need to have, and which the given examples have been designed to provide us, is the quality of compelling the person being coached to focus and provide more detailed answers than to ordinary questions in another context.

After our work on the ARROW model we broke up into groups of three and practiced coaching on each other, using some prepared live work issues we were asked to think about prior to these coaching days.

We ended the day by reflecting on the qualities of an effective coach and getting some more tips from Matt which included the three principles of coaching:

  • Awareness: The ability to focus and give your complete attention to the person being coached, and without passing judgement.
  • Responsibility: The person being coached needs to own their tasks, so don’t take anything away from them. Particularly important if you are the person’s line manager as well as coach.
  • Trust: The person being coached needs to have trust in the coach, the coaching process, and most importantly themselves.

Regarding awareness, we had an aside on active listening with advice which included showing an interest, avoiding interruptions, removing distractions and making good eye contact. All of which are designed to show that you are listening.

Next steps after today are to try and put it all into practice in our own teams before the final coaching day in around a month’s time, and to read some of the follow-up articles and documentation which Matt has provided.

Session 6: Coaching at Work, Part 1

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The first of a three day ‘mini-course’ within the module devoted to coaching. Today was all about coaching theory, tomorrow will be practical application, and then in around a month there will be a third day covering how you have implemented coaching in the real world and how to coach teams rather than individuals.

These sessions are being delivered by an external consultant, Matt Somers, who’s coaching model is based on the work of Tim Gallwey who’s work includes The Inner Game of Tennis which Matt recommended in particular for follow-up reading.

The day began with an exploration of what we each wanted to get out of the coaching sessions, and our collected responses can be seen in the first piece of flip chart paper in the attached photo. What I wanted to gain was to learn how to apply the principles of coaching in situations where people and teams are likely to be resistant, to coaching specifically but to any kind of change in general.

Next was the day’s first exercise and demonstration of the power of coaching. Standing in a circle we had to toss a ball between us, recording how long it took to do so. On our first attempt we did it in 20.1 seconds. Matt then asked us how we could do it in half the time. There were many iterations, and eventually we go it down to an incredible 0.15 seconds – I won’t tell you how, spoilers. The point of the exercise is that after each iteration we all thought we had done pretty well and, after the first two or three rounds, that we couldn’t possibly improve further, but by making us think about how we could half the time, instead of telling us to do so, or that it can be done, or other teams have done it faster, Matt was coaching us to push ourselves, to find our own solutions.

And that is the crux of coaching. It is about drawing people out, releasing potential, helping them to learn as opposed to teaching, training or counselling them. The role of the coach is to ask the right questions, to help motivate people and to remove internal barriers to success – internal interference as identified in the second piece of flip chart paper in the photo. These are factors such as low morale, a fixed mind-set, boredom, stress, low self-esteem, etc. There are also external factors of interference which a coach may not be able to do anything about, such as the influence of others, conflict, office culture and family problems.

Another important factor for success we discussed was motivation, and the importance of motivation in getting people to perform at a consistently high level. We identified three broad categories of motivator – performance, learning and enjoyment – which are distinct from routine day-to-day things such as salary, benefits or job security. What these three factors of motivation have in common is that they are largely internal, and thus can be developed with the help of coaching.

The day ended with another couple of exercises. ‘The Trials of Tell’ was designed to show the limitations of an instructive or commanding style by having one partner in a pair imagine themselves to be an alien who, lying flat on the floor, had no concept of the ability to stand, while the second partner had to instruct them on how to do so. The second exercise contrasted this by having someone who self-identified as clumsy and unable to catch a ball consistently, doing exactly that, with the aid of being peppered with coaching style questions as they were tossing the ball back and forth between themselves and Matt. Instead of commanding ‘Watch the ball’, asking closed questions, ‘Are you watching the ball?’, or asking interrogative questions, ‘Why aren’t you watching the ball?’, Matt started by asking ‘What do you notice about the ball?’ and then followed up with questions about the ball and exercise which were related to the catcher’s responses. In doing so Matt demonstrated two things, firstly the power of using questions as an effective means of getting people to think, rather than giving instructions, and secondly the nature of coaching questions: that they should be open and not closed, start off broad and then get narrower, follow the interests of the person being coached, and use their own words and responses in your follow-up questions to show that you are actively listening and engaging with them.

Finally, I’ll end this post with a couple of random quotes from the session. These are not Matt’s, but axioms he has picked up over his years as a coach and isn’t sure who to attribute them to:

"Quitting and going is bad, quitting and staying is worse."

"Learning is easier than being taught."